By People Staff
March 25, 1996 12:00 PM

HIS PICTURE WAS ON THE FRONT page of the local paper, and Hollywood producers have been calling, but 10-year-old Josh Carlisle Coffey, who has Down syndrome, couldn’t care less. He’s happy just to be back home with his family. “He enjoys being waited on,” says Josh’s father, truck driver Lynn Coffey, 43, of Cassville, Mo., “but I kinda doubt he really understands all the fuss.”

The hubbub began on March 6, when Josh, who had been playing in the backyard with a couple of stray dogs, didn’t come to supper when his mother, Johnny, called him. With snow falling, 150 townspeople gathered within hours to comb the Ozark hills with flashlights in search of the missing boy. During the next 70 hours, 700 rescuers joined the search, but at night the windchill dropped to 34 degrees below zero. “My mind was telling me there’s no way he can be alive,” says Johnny, 46, a home-maker. “But my soul kept telling me, ‘Don’t worry, he’s alive. Somewhere.’ ”

Josh was indeed alive—and not alone. On March 9, Oscar “Junior” Nell, a horse trainer from Springfield, Mo., who had joined the search, was riding on horseback through heavy forest about a mile from Josh’s house when one of the stray dogs—a barking blue-heeler mutt puppy—led him to the spot where Josh was lying face down with his red coat pulled over his head. There, a 2-year-old beagle-dachshund mix was standing guard. “The dogs probably curled up next to him and kept him warm enough to stay alive,” said Sheriff Ralph Hendrix. Reluctant to abandon Josh, the older dog followed the ambulance that carried him to a helicopter. “That one ran its little legs off,” says canine handler Dana Kammerlohr. “It was like she was saying, I’ve come this far, and now you’re going to leave me?’ ”

After being treated for frostbitten toes at Cox Medical Center South in nearby Springfield, Josh was released last week. According to his parents, who have six other children, Josh can’t remember, or can’t articulate, the details of his ordeal. But on one subject he has made his feelings clear: his love for Baby and Angel, the names he has given the two dogs that may have saved his life—and which his parents now plan to adopt. “Josh didn’t have gloves or a hat on,” says his grateful mother. “There’s no other way you can look at this than as God’s way of protecting him. Those dogs were angels.”